It didn't start with Riri Williams.
Marvel Comics' push for more diverse superheroes started in earnest several years before the 15-year-old was announced as Iron Man's successor in early July. We've seen a female Thor, a black Captain America, a Korean-American Hulk and a Mexican-American Ghost Rider start treading the trail blazed by Miles Morales, a Hispanic and black Spider-Man, and Kamala Khan, the Muslim, Pakistani-American successor to Ms. Marvel, a hero pioneered by the blond-haired, blue-eyed Carol Danvers. Moon Girl, a.k.a. Lunella Lafayette, a recently introduced 9-year-old black character, is being hyped as the smartest person in the universe.
On the creative side, National Book Award–winning Between the World and Me author Ta-Nehisi Coates—who penned the Atlantic longform wave-maker and award-taker "The Case for Reparations"—became the writer for a top-selling Black Panther reboot. Over the weekend, Marvel announced that Purdue University professor and Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay and University of Pittsburgh professor and Hemming the Water poet Yona Harvey would become the first black women to write for Marvel, tackling the Black Panther spinoff World of Wakanda.
“The opportunity to write black women and queer black women into the Marvel universe, there’s no saying no to that,” Gay told the New York Times. Coates weighed in with, “It’s not, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if there are more women writers, more women creators in comics?’ That would be nice, but in many ways, it is kind of an imperative.”
Axel Alonso, the Mexican-American editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics since 2011, spoke to Fuse about where the company's been and where it's going.
Fuse: Tell me about this spread of Marvel heroes whose genders, races and cultural backgrounds are so noticeably shifting and broadening.
Axel Alonso: It's a wave that we only somewhat control. A priority for us was that we would diversify our line, both in terms of the characters and the creators. But I don't think anybody expected we would be able to move this quickly. It started, I think the first—we can go back and look at the arrival of Miles Morales [and] the success of Kamala Khan as being examples where things just worked.
There was a point at which both Jason Aaron, who was writing Thor, and Rick Remender, at about the same time, had ideas to put new characters in the uniforms, in the costumes—in Thor's case a woman, Jane Foster, and in Captain America's case, Sam Wilson. Those happened with two writers who weren't even talking with one another, you understand? They had a similar idea to play with an icon, they both came up with compelling reasons to do so and we went for it. And we suddenly realized that we had an Avengers landscape that didn't look anything like the movies. Equally important, people were embracing it, people were loving it. Jason's female Thor outsells his male Thor. She connected with people, same way Kamala Khan connected with people. So really it's just been about that.